The Chemistry Map of Scotland was built for the Royal Society of Chemistry as part of their International Year of Chemistry celebration (2011). It was presented at the Science and the Parliament meeting in Edinburgh on Wednesday 9 November 2011 (our previous blog post).
The purpose of the site is to encourage school children to explore the chemistry by looking at how it impacts their local area. I had thought it would be mostly a historic project, but the children’s submissions show that it is anything but – they see chemistry as very much a part of a living and working landscape; the local galvanising works, offshore wind-farms and whiskey distilleries are at least as important as the work of Joseph Black (1728 – 1799)!
The site design is very simple, you won’t get lost anywhere here! We are particularly proud of the logo – even if it does conflate a couple of stereotypes – the thistle (for Scotland) and the benzene ring (for chemistry). The logo was designed to inject a bit of fun and movement into the site, along with the defiantly off-square page corners! In discussion with the client we selected the ‘Short Stack’ font by James Grieshaber, one of the free Google Web Fonts. The font is quirky, friendly without being MS Comic Sans, which has been rather over-exposed.
At the start of the project it was evident that Google were bringing in new charging policies for the use of mapping, so we chose to look at the Open Source alternative. The mapping program we used is OpenLayers, while the base mapping is provided by OpenStreetMap. OpenLayers can use any base mapping (for example Google, Bing or the Ordnance Survey) or satellite/aerial photography layers (Google and Bing are the most commonly seen examples on the web). This choice provides a great deal of flexibility to the project, as mapping sources can be changed as need or expediency dictate.
The public site provides an interactive map with clickable icons leading to students essays (stored in PDF format, to simplify administration). It also has a smart search facility, automatically checking date ranges for articles if a number is input (again my preconception that most of the content would be historic – but it is nice to see what chemistry was going on in Scotland in the year 1850). When search results are displayed they automatically update the thumbnail map, so it centres on the relevant place as your cursor hovers over each result.
We re-visit the Cookies debate with this site. Cookies enable us to create bookmarks to previously viewed pages for you, making it easy to jump between different essays on the same subject (or whatever you like!). Here we looked at an explicit permission system, as required by European Law – you have to click before we can create a cookie. This is the most satisfactory (and legally correct) way of dealing with this problem, which we have previously addressed. Mixed messages are coming from government though, so despite the fact that there is a lot of good in this law for the e-proles, it seems increasingly unlikely that the UK will ever enforce it.
Finally, the site is driven by a custom administration interface, permitting the RSC to add and edit points on the map. Hopefully this will ensure that the site can be kept going and expanding for a long time to come…